Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gettin' em' out

Mouse lemurs come in two personality types when it comes to extracting them from the trap. Either they curl themselves into a very small ball in the corner of the trap, or they attempt a bold leap out of the trap and then make a hasty rush for the corner of the tent. Either way they’re pretty amusing to work with, but are quite cooperative patients once we get them in hand.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friends of the forest

Hiking is never a boring task up here when there are surprises around every corner. You never know when you might run into a ginormous pill bug (Order
Sphaerotheriida). Doesn’t it just make you want to conglobate (aka roll into a little ball?)

Or you could witness one of the amazing leaf-tailed geckos (genus Uroplatus).

Or shake hands with a potentially toxic millipede. Such is diversity in Madagascar!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Squeeze on in!

We provide cushy accommodations for our mouse lemurs here—they get their own penthouse tenthouse during the day of their capture. We set up this tent to conduct the health evaluations, but then the mouse lemurs get to rest up during the daylight hours before they’re released back to their original location at dusk. With three of us in the tent (Bethany, Herman and I) and our mouse lemur friends (as many as 6 at one time!) it can get to be pretty tight quarters. It’s a bonding experience.
Photo credit: Fidy R.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What's for dinner?

We’re lucky to have the cooking taken care of while we’re up here on the mountain at Betampona. We’ve employed a miracle worker, Anastasy, who can whip up a steaming bowl of beans and rice in no time at all. That helps us focus our energies on the strenuous job of catching mouse lemurs.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome to my humble abode.

The huts are constructed out of dried traveler palm leaves and elevated to avoid the incessant mud and roaming chickens. We have most of what we need in this little hut—a roof over our head for the rain showers, a bed, a small desk and a mosquito net. Come on in for a little tour!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Livin' on the edge

We live on the boundary of the Betampona reserve in the small village of Rendrirendry, which consists of 10 to 15 huts mostly inhabited by the Betampona conservation agents and their families. We experience all of the charming and less charming qualities of village life in Madagascar—the spunky Malagasy kids in the village are definitely a plus. They tend to burst into giggles every time they see us (aka the “vazaha be”, or “big white person”) walking around in our ridiculous outfits. My least favorite aspect of village life is the resident group of roosters who crow at 2, 3, 4, and 5 AM (for practice) and then at sunrise (for good measure).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Betampona fashion--Paris here we come!

We’re taking field camp fashion to the next level. Brace yourselves.

Not only fashion, but function as well. Now introducing the field work/hiking/catching mouse lemurs/slipping down muddy hills/dodging leaches/ new summer line. Socks and mud included.

We highly recommend the sock look, and not just for the haute couteur look. Socks are essential in keeping out those blood-sucking enemies of ours. The leaches rain down from the sky on wet days, so be aware of large drops that go down your shirt!

Obviously this is a popular style, as it seems that everyone is doing it. I now introduce my male researcher counterpart, with exactly the same sense of style. Patrick H, Botanist.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No pain, no gain!

There are certain reasons why this preserve has remained more or less intact thus far. The diligent presence of its conservation agents makes a difference, and the watchful eye of the Madagascar Fauna Group certainly plays a role. But there’s another reason why large primary forest trees remain here. It’s steep. Really steep. Every morning we huff and puff up the first 2 kilometers out of camp, a trail that brings us up the steep ridgeside to the rolling ridgetop skirted by the main trail in the preserve, Piste Principal. Whew. Who ever said you didn’t get a work out with field work? Check it out….

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Challenges facing Betampona

Betampona is a fascinating preserve, but it stands as one of the last tracts of eastern low elevation rainforest remaining in the country. Human disturbances have taken their toll in this area--selective logging, rice cultivation, some hunting and a growing human population have all extracted resources from the area surrounding the park. It is truly an island refuge of primary rainforest, as one can see in this recent satellite image. (note the dark green shape surrounded by lighter secondary forest)

Despite disturbances, a broad diversity of wildlife and plant species remain, including 11 lemur taxa, 3 of which are endangered (Indri indri, Varecia variegata variegata, and Propithecus diadema diadema). We’ll continue to focus on Microcebus here, so we’ll set traps every night on many of the trails in the preserve.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Getting there....

We made it all in one piece to Betampona after a 4x4, a canoe crossing, a taxi-brousse and a 4 km slip and slide mud walk.

We even made it with all 9 of our bags (3 bags for the research equipment, 3 personal bags for Bethany, Herman and myself, and then 3 whopping bags of food). You have to bring all of your necessities with you—there’s no grocery store on the corner up here. Although if you get in dire straits, you can always hire a porter to head back down the mountain to the nearest village (~ 4 kilometers away) to purchase anything from the following available items (the typical village stock): Three Horses Beer (THB), the drink of choice in Madagascar, local rum, rice, or crackers. Take your pick! We try to bring up as many fresh vegetables as possible, but when those start to go bad, it’s back to the old standard: rice and beans.

Check out the resourceful porters carrying our beast-sized bags…they will most likely still beat us up the slippery mountainside. In flip flops no less.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mission: Betampona

We’re on to our next site—Betampona Strict Nature Reserve. It takes a little more effort to get there…..1 4X4 ride, 10 porters, 1 canoe, 1 taxi-brousse, and then 6 more porters and a 4 kilometer slog through the mud, and voila! We’re there!

We’ll be in Betampona for a little over 2 weeks, and we’ll focus on Microcebus capture there. No computer access in this part of town, so we’ll check in when we’re back in range! Keep checking the blog, new entries should be popping up periodically!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Our first eastern mouse lemur!

We captured our first mouse lemur on the east coast—a strapping young lad we named “Tokana,” or “the only one,” in Malagasy. We caught him after a full moon night, which may affect how active the mouse lemurs are.